Title: For the Greater Good
Characters: Severus Snape, Albus Dumbledore
Beta Reader: aigooism
(Highlight to View) Warning(s): Possibly AU. Manipulative!Dumbledore.
Summary: Albus Dumbledore has his plans. And sometimes those plans involve other people.
Despite everything, I'm still surprised when Severus turns up outside my door. His face is calm, almost blank, but there's tenseness in his shoulders and darkness under his eyes. "Come in." I hold the door open and am gratified to see a flicker of disquiet in his eyes. "I'm surprised to see you here." That's true enough; I had expected him here days ago. Aberforth was never good at keeping a secret; he had come to me that night to tell me that Severus had overheard my conversation and I knew Severus well enough to predict his reaction to that prophecy.
Severus's shoulders visibly relax. "I wanted... I want to talk to you." His eyes dart around, scanning the corridors.
"Of course," I say with a reassuring smile. "Don't worry, Severus. There is nobody else around."
"Of course not. It's Christmas holidays." He presses his lips into a thin line, looking just like the young lad I first stumbled across in the corridors years ago. Back then, he was only a child, a skinny young boy, with clean but ragged robes. Now, he's a young man, but the look in those eyes is the same. It's a look tinged with desperation, with the faint glitter of unshed tears.
I begin to reach a hand over, but when Severus flinches, I simply brush my hand against his shoulder. "Come in then."
Severus steps in and I shut the door behind him. I keep silent as we ascend the stairs up to my office. Sometimes, I find that people are more talkative if I leave them alone with their thoughts. The haunted look on Severus's face tells me that those thoughts are dire indeed. I'm glad. It tells me that there's some hope for him yet. As we walk into my office, I gesture for him to sit down. "Would you like a drink?"
"No," Severus says as he sits gingerly on the edge of the chair. He looks so nervous that I almost expect him to stand up and bolt for the door.
I pour myself a small shot of brandy, and as an afterthought, I pour a generous shot for Severus. He gives me a startled look as I put it down by him. "Just in case."
Severus clears his throat. "It does taste good," he admits as he takes a small sip.
I pat the bottle. "I've had it for the past twenty years." Walking over, I sit down next to Severus. "How have you been?"
"Good," Severus says shortly. He was never a particularly talkative lad, but right now, getting words out of him is like pulling teeth.
"I hear that you've been working at a local potions company. How's that?" I know that if I give Severus enough time, he will tell me what I already know. I know better than to push him. I watched him during his last few years at Hogwarts and saw how quickly and easily he rose to the sweetened bait of Lucius Malfoy. They didn't need to push Severus; all they needed to do was appeal to his desire to belong, be powerful and needed.
I take a sip of my brandy, swirling it around in my mouth before swallowing. "I hear that Lucius Malfoy is the new benefactor of the company. I remember how close you were at Hogwarts. It must be nice to work with him."
Severus's face stiffens. "He was several years above me," he says shortly. "I didn't know him that well."
"Oh?" I ask mildly. "I thought you were friends."
Severus's eyes narrow. "Why are you questioning me?" he suddenly demands.
I reach over to pick up a small bowl. "Sherbet lemon?" I ask in an attempt to diffuse the situation. "And if you would recall, it was you who came here this evening." I give him a sharp look. "I haven't even asked you how you managed to get past the wards yet."
With a quick motion, Severus upends the bowl of lemon drops. I'm slightly disappointed as I watch them rolling away under the bookshelf and table. I hadn't predicted this turn of events; those lemon drops had been quite difficult to obtain. "That's none of your business," he grinds out as he pushes his chair back. "It was a mistake for me to come here."
"You can leave at any time." I point towards the door.
Severus takes a step towards it and hesitates. He rubs his left arm. "Have you ever done something..."
"Why, of course. I find that I often do 'something'. In fact, right now, I'm eating a jelly bean." I wrinkle my nose as I bite down. Cabbage. I really need to remember to buy the Muggle kind next time.
"But have you ever done anything... not so good?" Severus asks quietly. "Something that you're ashamed of?"
I close my eyes briefly. "I think that everybody has things in their past that they would prefer not to think about."
"But not like this," Severus exclaims. Then, with one swift motion, he pulls up his left sleeve. The Dark Mark is vivid on his pale skin. Severus takes a few quick steps towards the chair and collapses. "I'm... I'm a Death Eater." His voice is harsh. It almost sounds like he's never said it out aloud before.
"I see," I say quietly.
"You see?" Severus says spluttering. "I tell you that I'm a Death Eater and all you can say is 'I see'?"
I breathe out slowly before answering. I know that I must tread carefully. My words must seem natural, yet with the amount of thought I'm putting into them, I know that they are anything but. "Would you prefer that I call the Ministry?"
"No!" Severus says sharply, his hand moving to his wand.
I smile. "Did you forget, perhaps, that I was once a champion duellist?" I tell him casually. My wand appears in my fingers before his hand has even reached his belt. I place the wand on the small table in front of us. It's a position of trust between wizards and I know that Severus will see it this way. If he were less knowledgeable of wizarding ways, I'd have tried a different tactic.
Severus's hand drops by his side, and he gives me an almost petulant look.
I remind myself that despite everything, he's still very young and subject to the idiocies of other people his age. Lucius must have found him ready for the picking. It was disappointing, really. I expected more out of a son of Eileen Prince, but then again, if Severus hadn't been weak, I wouldn't have this opportunity. Briefly, I wonder if his weakness was a result of that Muggle Eileen married.
I reach over and lightly brush my thumb over the mark on Severus's left arm. He gives me a startled look as his arm moves involuntarily. "It's alright, Severus," I tell him. I'm careful to keep my tone soft and reassuring. Keeping Severus calm is like trapping a fox, one false move and his trust will dart away and I'll be left with nothing.
"Don't do that," he says as he yanks his arm away.
"Does it hurt?"
"No," he says slowly. "Not like when he touches it."
Neither of us needs to clarify who he is. Deliberately, I draw Severus's sleeve down to cover the mark again. "He doesn't have to have power over you," I tell him. "You have other choices."
Severus looks up at me. There's such hope in his eyes that it almost breaks my heart. "What do you mean?"
"You're an intelligent man, Severus. What do you think I mean?"
Severus's long fingers fidgeted with his robes. "I ... I can help you," he says quietly. "If you don't turn me in, I can help you. You need somebody on the inside."
Inwardly, I rejoice, but outwardly, I simply give Severus a serious look. "You want to be a spy," I say flatly. "That isn't as easy as you think. This isn't your way out of a legal penalty." I need him to know that this isn't the easy way out. He needs to know that I have the power to send him to prison.
"How can you say that?" Severus bursts out. "I'm not doing this to stay out of Azkaban! I'm doing this because it's the right thing." He gulps. "I've seen such ... I've done..."
"And you will have to continue to do those things," I tell him flatly. "You'll have to go back to Voldemort and pretend that this conversation never happened. You'll have to continue to do terrible things. You'll have to be able to resist his questioning if he suspects."
Severus shudders slightly, but then he squares his chin. "I can do it. Do you want to know why I came here today?"
I do, but I shake my head anyway. He needs this catharsis.
"I overheard you with that Trelawney woman," Severus says flatly. "I told the Dark Lord about the prophecy and now he's after the Potters and the Longbottoms. He's after Lily!"
"He's been after many families over the years," I tell him mildly. "I've seen him murder children, mothers, and fathers. What makes these two families different?"
Severus glares at me. "You're supposed to save those families."
"Sometimes," I say. "We do our best. But sometimes we fail. We cannot save everybody."
I'm slightly startled when Severus leans forward. His eyes are burning as he grasps onto the collar of my robes. The passion bubbling inside him is spilling out. "Hide them then! If you hide them, then he won't be able to find them," he bursts out. "Keep her – them – safe. Please!"
I nod. We were going to do all we could to save those two families anyway; one of those two children was our hope for the future. "Very well. But you must not fail me. That is your penance, Severus."
He nods eagerly, his black hair flying about his face. "Anything," he agrees fervently.
I smile faintly and wonder if he will ever realise that he has pledged his life to yet another master. I know myself well enough to know that I am not so different to Voldemort. We both see below the currents of life to grasp the essence of what is, and we are both deft at manipulation. But now is not the time for introspection.
I lay a hand on Severus's shoulder, establishing a firm but not demanding pressure. He has to know that he's done the right thing. He has to remember this conversation with pride. This is no promise to be thought over and regretted in the full light of day. "You made the right choice. This will help many people. I won't lie to you, Severus." I tighten my grip slightly until he looks up at me. "You may be called upon to do some damned distasteful things. But it's for the greater good. We must win this war. You understand that, don't you?"
Severus turns his head. His eyes are questioning. "But," he says and then stops. "But that's what the Dark Lord said."
"He's wrong," I tell him firmly. "Tell me, Severus. Is it for the greater good if our government is undermined?"
"N-no," Severus says slowly, uncertainly.
"That's correct." I can see Severus is reassured by my calmness, my authoritative teacher tone. He's still young, only a year or so out of Hogwarts. Undoubtedly thoughts of detention and house points are flickering through his mind. I smile down at him. "Is it for the greater good if thousands of innocent Muggles die?"
"Of course not," Severus says, sounding more sure this time.
"What Voldemort is doing is not for the greater good. People like him serve nobody but themselves." I give him a serious look. "And remember what I said. Names are power."
Severus catches my eye. When he speaks, there's just a faint spark of the intelligent, determined boy I saw seven years ago entering Hogwarts. "You also said that I should keep my head down. Pretend that nothing happened," he reminds me. 'I cannot use his real name."
"Of course," I agree. "But never forget, Severus. Never forget your promise to me."
"I won't," he swears. "But you have to save her. You have to save Lily!"
"She will be safe," I tell him. "I will use all my power to protect her." I have already spoken to Pettigrew and he seems eager to help his friends. There is something that makes me wonder about him, but I push my doubts aside. This is not the time to doubt myself. This is not the time to doubt my plans. If I doubt, all will fail.
Severus stands up and pushes his chair back. He brushes his long hair away from his face. "I have to leave now. They will be wondering where I am. But I'll ... I'll come up with an excuse."
I stand up as well and walk over to the door. Severus stands tall in front of me. I wonder if it is just my imagination or if his eyes are a little bit less haunted. "Good luck," I tell him.
I watch as he disappears down my staircase, a tall lanky figure, more boy than man. I shake my head. Who would have thought that the fate of our world might be in Severus Snape's hands? But, of course, that's not quite accurate. He may be our link to Voldemort, but it is not he who pulls the strings. I close the door firmly and sit back down again.
Picking up my brandy, I stare into its depths.
I didn't plan tonight. That would have made me a monster. But I could see it coming and I didn't do anything to stop it.
I tell myself that I couldn't have stopped him joining the Death Eaters. It was out of my hands; Severus needed to make his own decisions. But that wasn't quite true. I saw what was happening. I knew he was on the brink. I knew that he would do something idiotic, but I didn't do anything to stop him.
But I also knew that he wouldn't last. He wasn't a cruel person, so when he finally came to his senses, we'd have a valuable asset on the inside.
It was necessary, I told myself. It was the only way.
With effort, I turn my mind to another consideration. Severus will remember tonight. I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't indelibly pressed into his mind. But I cannot let him remember everything. If he is ever to look at this night again with a clear mind, he may see my hand in the events and I must never allow that to happen.
That, I think will be the easiest of my tasks in the upcoming days.
History may judge me a cruel man, but I don't think it will. History will never know what role I had to play in this. I only did what was necessary. The sacrifice of one child's innocence wasn't too much to pay for peace.